REVIEW: Expeditions: Viking

Jun
03

REVIEW: Expeditions: Viking

Half RPG, half turn-based combat with a huge amount of dialog and storyline. This will absorb you into the Viking way of life, keeping you busy choosing dialog responses and tweaking a bazillion options to improve your chances of final glory.

Steam: Released
Type: Single-player
Genre: RPG, Strategy
Developer: Logic Artists
Publisher: Logic Artists
Release Date: 27 Apr, 2017

The scene is set in Denmark, 789 AD. You play as Hjalli, the chieftain of a village, whose father had previously mounted a failed expedition (raid!) to England and now you are planning to honour his memory by putting together a party and plan a new expedition. In order to do this, there is a seemingly endless series of quests to accomplish, which you pick up as you interact with the people you meet (and fight).

There is an overall timer (number of days) that you must keep an eye on. If you fail to mount your expedition before the timer runs out, you lose the game and have to start again. There have been many complaints about this – it doesn’t allow you to casually explore – so the devs have implemented a feature to allow you to disable the timer, although this also means disabling achievements. Anyway, if you do manage to beat the timer, the game continues after you set sail. I haven’t yet got this far though.

The general premise of the game is to complete quests which involve a LOT of dialog. Let me repeat that. A LOTTTT! You are constantly reading and selecting responses, and your choices can often improve or diminish your reputation, group morale and that sort of thing, so it’s not like most games where you eventually just end up clicking stuff to move it on, you really have to pay attention and make the right choices. You can make peaceful or political decisions or you can go all-out and attack everyone in sight as soon as you clap eyes on them. This also “forces” you to pay attention to the storyline, which I am often guilty of ignoring in other games. It’s an interesting story, and the devs obviously have some historical knowledge of the period because every now and then there’s an interesting snippet of info. There’s also a fair amount of humour, like this:

“…by far his outstanding feature, however, is his beard. It’s the sort of beard you might expect to find adorning the face of a Jotunn. It looks like a bear crawled onto his chin and died.”

One point I would like to note is that there is occasional bad language, including F-bombs. The writing is very good and this feels out of place, unnecessary and frankly a bit lazy. There are more imaginative and entertaining exclamations/insults that could be used, and I know the writers are capable of it, considering their excellent humour.

Complexity Made Easy

There are a ton of things to consider. Every detail of the game has multiple options and you can tweak anything and everything. There is a tongue-in-cheek reference to this in one of the dialogs: “This is the repairing menu. It may be the only simple menu in the game – savour it.” Indeed!

However, playing the game feels easy because of the care and attention that has been given to guiding the player. For example, when camping, instead of manually setting every item, you can simply click auto-arrange. Great for new (and lazy) players. I suspect that the further you get into the game, the more necessary it will become to tweak things manually, once you get used to everything, but that’s exactly the way it should be. Also, you only occasionally have to wander around looking for things (when a quest specifically requires searching for something). The rest of the time you can select one of your active quests and then you see a pointer to the next event, it’s great, just follow the arrow, and you can check each quest to see which events are nearby to do them more efficiently.

I played the game for a bit and then took a two week break. Normally in this situation I would have to start a game again from the beginning to learn all the controls etc. but here, despite the complexity, I was able to jump right back in without any problem. Everything feels intuitive and natural, from spinning the camera angle with right-drag, to clicking the prominent taskbar icons to reveal the options. Great job.

Combat

While half of the game is following quests and chatting to people, the other half is turn-based combat which happens very frequently, in response to dialog events. The screen turns to hex-tiles and then you’re in combat mode. I’ve played various turn-based-combat games such as Pit People, XCOM2, Loot Rascals etc. but for me this is the best I’ve seen. You must pay careful attention to the positioning of each and every one of your team, taking into consideration weapon types, cover, opportunity attacks (enemy gets a free hit if you move away), flanking and all sorts of other tactics. Most of your team carry both melee and ranged weapons, and you can switch them as needed. You really do have to think about your moves, but again, it comes naturally and never feels confusing. The fight always feels fair.

Winning battles usually gives you points that you can spend to upgrade your fighters’ weapons, armour etc. but you don’t always win. You can end up being defeated and your team sustaining injuries which will need to be tended to at the campsite. Your situation evolves all the time and you’re constantly “putting out fires” like this and improving bits and pieces little by little.

Sound & Vision

The artwork is fabulous. There must be hundreds of people wandering around, and they all have distinctive appearances and individual Nordic names. The snow-covered environment really absorbs you into the story. However, my GTX550Ti (in between miniumum and recommended spec) does struggle a bit, even on ‘fastest’ graphics setting. The most annoying thing about it is when you ‘push’ your mouse to the edges of the screen to look around, the slight lag causes it to go too far, making it hard to control and causing you to have to readjust multiple times. I would recommend a beefy graphics card to play this. It would be nice if it went to 1920×1200 too, but I’m stuck with 1080p and black borders. Oh, and more zoom please.

Another quite annoying thing is that when you move from one scene to another there is a loading screen, and these seem to take forever. I once clocked one at 90 seconds, and that’s with an i7 and SSD. These are not occasional events either, they happen all the time. That stripey spinning shield looked cool the first few times, but now it’s pretty aggravating.

There is the occasional snippet of period-themed music, with a lute for example, but for the most part you’re listening to the wind blow and your group’s footsteps, with ambient sounds such as bystanders occasionally muttering something. I like it. Makes me feel absorbed in the environment. Most of the dialog is just text but on rare occasions you get an unexpected outburst of voice acting for no rhyme or reason. It’s weird. My guess is that they wanted to have some actors but the vast amount of dialog was too much for them to do it all, so they just added bits here and there. It’s good acting when it happens, anyway.

Difficulty

As I’ve said, the complexity is masked by brilliant guidance. The game inevitably gets harder as you progress, but you can choose for yourself when to let go of the auto-arrange and start tweaking things manually. Combat also has a lot to think about, but you quickly get used to it and start using the proper tactics. I’ve won a few battles and lost a few, which means the game is nicely balanced.

Lots to think about, intuitive tools and popup hints to deal with it all.

Steam

There are 40 achievements and I’m surprised to see the generally high rate of completion on the global achievements list because you do have to play for quite a long time to start picking them up. It just goes to show that people do love playing this.

Some trading cards and Steam Cloud (but no Linux support for me to use it with unfortunately).

Value

The price may look fairly steep but there is a ton and a half of content here of epic proportions. A single playthrough will take many hours, and there’s endless replay value as you can choose different dialog options and have a completely fresh and new game each time. I would even go so far as to say it’s cheap at this price.

Verdict

It’s a long, epic adventure with loads of story, quests galore and the best turn-based combat I’ve seen. I really can’t fault the content of it. It’s a shame about the performance nuisances, but I’m getting a more powerful graphics card next week and hopefully this will address most of my issues.

Being British, I’m not sure if I should approve of this really. Vikings should stay where they are and leave us alone.

About JimDeadlock

My main focus is puzzlers or anything with puzzle elements in it. I also like forward-planning strategy and discovery/adventure. Games that engage your brain without too much urgency. || I'm a rabid Linux user and try to avoid Win-only games but I'll suffer it if the game is worthwhile. || I don't go for multiplayer games in general, and you couldn't make me play FPS if you tied me to a chair and held a blowtorch to my toes. || Steam Profile

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